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Retrospective fitting tribute for late local artist

Self-portrait of Jan Eagle. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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“Art is my breath,” Wairarapa artist Jan Eagle, who died last year, was fond of saying.

And Aratoi [Wairarapa Museum of Art and History] in Masterton will breathe new life into 60 of her iconic paintings with its This is me – Jan Eagle exhibition opening this week.

Accompanying her bright, quirky and iconic paintings will be her beloved vehicle ‘Edna May’ in the museum courtyard and a newly-published children’s book, ‘The Story of Edna May’, written and illustrated by friend Gwenda Saunders, who is also curator of the exhibition alongside another close friend of Eagle’s, Marg Robinson.

Wairarapa artist Jan Eagle.

Eagle was an established artist in Wairarapa for several decades.

She didn’t pursue painting fulltime until later in life as her family said to her, “you won’t make any money out of art” and put her in a florist apprenticeship.

She sold her florist shop in the 1980s and dedicated herself to the arts and supporting other artists.

“It’s my life, it’s who I am”, she once said.

“I don’t just paint objects, rather I use the paint to say something about them.

“It’s the whole process of observation and using the paint, getting into it, pushing it around and enjoying the process.”

Eagle died last year after a battle with cancer aged 82.

Saunders said she became friends with Eagle in the 1980s when she went looking for an art class and was put in contact with the artist.

“Jan was passionate about Wairarapa and its people,” Saunders said.

“A true daughter of this fabulous region we live in.

“A much respected and talented artist with tremendous mana, she worked hard and determinedly.

“Her subject matter was varied which makes this exhibition both interesting and appealing.”

Robinson said she met Eagle around the same time, when she was in one of her life drawing classes.

“Jan was always inspirational, always interested and always open to experimenting and exploring ideas.

“She loved vibrant colour and form and was a keen observer.

“She noted the realities of everyday life and was an avid people-watcher.”

Both curators agreed that a retrospective of her work was a fitting tribute.

A large crowd is expected for the exhibition opening next Friday at 5.30pm. Saunders and Robinson will also deliver a talk at Aratoi on Saturday, July 27 at midday.


  1. What a fitting reflection of her life – She painted me and it was in her exhibition in wellington called ” friends”
    I have a number of art – she was a truly loving artist

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